Amongst the bustling streets of Yau Ma Tei lie hidden gems that are often passed by without another glance; elderly men and women run traditional businesses that seem like they are part of a different era. However by learning about these people and what they do for a living, we can understand the essence of Hong Kong culture and what makes Hong Kong so unique.
I recently went on a Sunset Survivors walking tour in Yau Ma Tei, where I met some people running such businesses. The tour started with a visit to the Tai Yik Pawnshop, where I learned about the fascinating tradition of the boat people of Hong Kong ‘pawning’ off their babies and then repurchasing them; this was considered to be an act of good luck. Afterwards, we walked to Bing Kee Copperware, where we met the brothers that own the shop and handcraft all the copperware products. Though they are elderly and don’t need to work anymore, they do so as it gives them a sense of purpose. Their story is really inspiring as it shows how hard-working they are. Next, we went to Mr. Shing’s Convenience Store, where I was able to try wah mui - a sweet, salty, and sour dried plum. It was really delicious and reminded me of eating Tamarind. Mr. Shing was kind enough to give me a jar of these for free! Surrounding the shop were some friendly old men who I was able to talk to in Mandarin. Following the convenience store, we met Mrs. Ho, who owns Lee Wo Steelyard. We were able to try and use a handmade Chinese scale to weigh items such as car keys and a juice box. This gave me an understanding of how these scales are used. Lastly, we went to the jade market, not to look at jewellery, but to visit one of the few letter writers left in Hong Kong - Mr. To. He showed us how he uses a typewriter to help people write letters and fill out tax forms.
This walking tour really opened my eyes to some of the historical businesses of Hong Kong. Furthermore, it made me understand that if you just talk to these people, you can learn so much from them and their experiences.